Zack Walker woke, as if from a dream, to a sea of snow and shivered. He yawned, stretched out his limbs, causing a flurry to fall from his hair, and looked about the deserted street where he’d spent the night. The snow seemed more churned than usual he thought, as if someone had been there in the night. Strange that he hadn’t woken; he was usually so alert. He shrugged and stood, surprised that he didn’t ache and walked out onto the busier main street.
Here the snow had turned to a wet, black slush from the traffic and when he looked down his trainers were soaked. He didn’t feel it though; his feet were numb. With his hands buried in his pockets, he narrowly missed a middle-aged man who was charging along the pavement, attention focussed on his phone. Zack swore violently after him, but the man didn’t even break stride and ignored him. Typical self-involved banker, Zack thought, who had to buy his kids love.
He wandered for a while, aware that he must have got used to the icy cold and thought about what to do. Normally he’d have been queuing for a hot drink now at the drop-in centre and some food, but this morning he wasn’t hungry. So he walked, out of the main pedestrian thoroughfare, away from the crowds, alongside the Tyne for a while then down to Jesmond and through to Heaton. It was miles but he didn’t notice.
Slowly the buildings became more rundown and shabbier and, turning a corner, he recognised where he was. He must have some sort of homing device – if you could call this home. Zack walked on and stood across the road from the ugly, neglected four story building that he had lived in for as long as he could remember. The thought of the place made him shudder. The front garden was overgrown, weeds climbing up the wire fence and nettles choking the hedges and plants with their tight grip. The place was bleak.
A police car pulled up. Zack pulled his hoodie up over his head and tucked his chin down to hide his face. Cop cars were always pulling up outside Helton Court; there was always trouble of some kind or another. He watched as a couple of officers got out and knocked on the door. He watched as Pearson, the man who ran the place opened up. He remembered big welts on his body from the belt buckle, bruises the size of your fist and then he turned and ran as fast as he could back the way he came, away from the memories and the pain.
Once out of view he bent over, breathing hard. He reckoned the police were probably there because of him; he’d been missing for several weeks now and officially the home would have filed a missing persons report. Unofficially they’d have been glad to see the back of him no doubt. He stood straight, not wanting to linger too close to the home and carried on walking. The last thing he needed was to be found now, especially not with his track record with the law.
As he walked back to the city he wondered what he was going to do. He didn’t think he could last much longer on the streets and he didn’t have anywhere else to go. Plus he was always looking over his shoulder. Newcastle was a small city; it was difficult to get lost here. He needed somewhere far away, somewhere so big that no one would ever find him…
London. The answer came to him in a flash of inspiration. It was so simple. He was always hearing about how big the place was, and how easy it was to disappear there. It was far enough away that they would never think to look for him there and they would never find him, even if they did.
Fired by his new conviction, Zack made his way to the train station. He milled around in the crowd for a while watching the guards and working out a way of getting past the barrier without a ticket. He spotted a woman with a big suit case, three small kids and a push chair. She’d be enough of a handful for the guards. He moved in closer and fell into step behind her. He was through before she even knew he was there.
Molly Sharp stood, arms folded across her chest, glaring at her mother. Here she goes again, Molly thought, trying to interfere with my life.
“It’s just I’m worried about you love,” her mum whined, “You should know I only want the best for you.”
Molly was unimpressed. Since when did wanting the best include sneaking around in the middle of the night checking up on her or going through her things?
“You know, it’s really not too much to ask what’s bothering you,” her mother went on in that needling tone that always got under Molly’s skin. “And quite frankly, as your mother, I think I have a right to know!”
Molly, who had heard this all a thousand times before, stayed silent. She pretended to yawn; she stretched and, making her excuses about how tired she was, slipped out of her mother’s grasp into the sanctuary of her room. She sighed and closed her eyes as she leaned against the door that was her barrier from the outside world.
She knew really that her mother was worried about her, that she was only trying to help, but sometimes it was seemed like the Spanish Inquisition, that she was on the wrack being constantly questioned with red hot pokers. Molly knew only too well that she had been acting strangely recently and obviously her mother was going to be concerned, but Molly couldn’t tell her mum the truth, not unless she wanted a trip to the psychiatrist and another course of pills.
She walked across to the window and opened it, letting the icy air cool her face. She tried to imagine what she’d say. Maybe; ‘Oh yeah Mum, sorry that I’ve been worrying you so much, it’s just that I’ve been hearing these voices in my head all the time,’ or perhaps; ‘Sometimes Mum, I think I hear dead people,’ even; ‘If I really concentrate hard Mum, I can see shadowy figures moving about.’
Not likely. She’d probably be sectioned or something, or turned into even more of a laughing stock than she was already. Molly slid down the wall not caring that she crumpled her giant poster of Che Guevara and sat on the floor hugging her knees. Perhaps it would be easier if she could talk about it, but there really was no-one that she could tell. Certainly not her mum and she no longer had any friends – the voices had seen to that. She couldn’t hear what anyone was saying to her because of the constant drone in her head and she was terrified that if her class mates found out they would turn against her and think she was a freak.
No, Molly thought, there was nothing she could do – except put up with it. She sighed and got to her feet. All this should really have reduced her to a crying wreck she thought wryly, but that was another thing that separated Molly from the rest of them. She never cried, ever. Not at her granddad’s funeral and certainly not over something like this. She put her headphones of and sat down on her bed to read.
She’d only had a second’s peace before there was a loud knocking on her bedroom door. Oh no, she thought; Mum. She removed one ear piece so that she could hear.
“Molly? Molly can I come in love and talk to you? I’m worried about you…”
Molly sighed. “GO away!” she called, “I’m busy!”
“Don’t tell me to go away Molly.” Her mother’s voice sounded more frayed this time. “We need to talk; I need to know what’s going on…”
“I said GO AWAY!” Molly shouted.
Suddenly the door handle rattled and Molly was pleased that she’d locked the door.
“OPEN THIS DOOR MOLLY!” Her mother shouted, “You are not escaping that easily!” Sandra began to hammer noisily on the door, shouting through the wooden barrier between them. “Open this door right now before I break it down! How can you be so selfish?”
The threat meant nothing to Molly but the accusation was like holding a match to gunpowder. Suddenly, shaking with anger, she leapt up and wrenched the door wide open. The frustration that had been building up inside her came spilling out her mouth as she exploded and screamed at her mother. Sandra screamed back. They raged for a few minutes, each trying to drown out the other. Then suddenly having enough of the shouting, Molly barged past her mum’s diminutive figure and stormed out of the house, the argument still ringing in her ears.
“Molly, come back!” Sandra shouted after her. She ran down the stairs and towards the open front door. “Come back young lady or you will have to…” her voice trailed off. It was pointless. Molly had gone.
Sandra shut the front door with a slam and for her part, she raged silently about the house for a while, outpouring her emotions in wild hand gestures, all of them offensive, and screaming at the walls. If anyone could have seen her they would have thought her madder than her daughter.
When she was calm enough to think clearly she decided to go up to Molly’s room, thinking that there must be some clues as to why her daughter was behaving so oddly. Still shaky from the shouting match she climbed the stairs slowly, holding on to the bannister for support. She walked along the corridor and stopped by Molly’s room, taking a deep breath to steady herself. She was about to break her daughter’s trust.
She opened the door and stepped into the mess. She knew it was bad, but this was the most disorganised room she had ever seen. Things were thrown everywhere; clothes dumped on the floor, books sprawled on the bed. Appalled by the state her daughter kept it in she tried to refocus, knowing that to touch anything would create another row. No one was ever, ever allowed in Molly’s room.
Sandra looked around for any clues into Molly’s behaviour. She didn’t really know what she was looking for, but her eyes fell upon a likely looking book, half open and well used. A diary perhaps? She knew she shouldn’t do it, she knew it was a terrible thing, but she had to. Molly might be in trouble, she might need help. Picking it up she settled herself on the bed and let the book fall open.
Sandra suddenly let out a gasp of horror. On every page was drawn a girl being tormented by shadowy figures that closed in, swirled about her cowering figure. Molly was an exceptional artist and it was clear that the girl in the pictures was her. The look on her face was one her mother wouldn’t forget in a hurry. It was one of pure terror, more petrified than a girl of sixteen had any right to be. Appalled Sandra shut the book, replaced it carefully and fled out of the room, deeply disturbed.
Molly strode angrily down the street, her face like thunder. People crossed the street to avoid her; such was the storm cloud that surrounded her. Already, however, as she walked, her mood was subsiding. She regretted the argument, her unkind words making her wince as she remembered them. Nevertheless she continued to march on – better to give her mum space and time to cool off.
Lost in thought she didn’t notice the young man coming the opposite way down the street, and collided with him making them both stagger backwards. She almost fell and prepared to let off a mouthful of abuse, but when she looked up at the tall dark, boy, too reeling from the impact, she instantly recognised him. Her annoyance at nearly being knocked to the ground was forgotten.
“Dev? Dev Pathmajaren?” she asked tentatively. The boy frowned slightly over the rim of his glasses, and then a spark of recognition ignited in his dark eyes.
“Molly?” he said, breaking into a smile, “Blimey! Molly! God, I hardly recognised you!” He stared at her. She was thinner than he remembered and still lovely, but she looked haunted almost, dark around the eyes and wary.
“How’ve you been?”
Molly had begun grinning but now her smile faded. Dev was doing what everyone did; look at her as if she’d lost something, gone awry.
“Oh erm, fine, you know, busy…” she said. She dropped her gaze and stared at the floor.
“Are you still painting? You used to do the most amazing pictures at school.” Dev waited for her to look up, but she didn’t. She nodded.
He stepped forward and touched her elbow. “We should catch up,” he said, “I mean properly catch up.” He was beginning to remember snatches of conversations about Molly. What was it people had said? He continued look at her with her head down, wringing her fingers together. She’d become a loner his mates had said, gone off on her own.
“We could have a coffee?” He suggested, suddenly. He knew what it felt like to be on the outside. “I mean, if you’d like to?”
Molly lifted her head. She had always liked Dev, sort of liked, liked Dev, but nothing had ever come of it. She met his eye to sense whether he was serious or not and she saw nothing but sincerity. Yup – she still liked, liked Dev.
She shrugged and then finally, she half smiled and said; “Where?”
“The Garden café. It’s nicer than the high street chains and they do great cakes.”
Molly grinned. “You’re on,” she said.
“Great!” Dev meant it too. There was something about Molly he thought, something fiery and independent that he liked. He could just see a small glimpse of it now; if he’d said Starbucks she wouldn’t have agreed.
She hesitated and frowned. “Hmmm, let me think, I’m not sure. I am so incredibly busy, what with dropping out of college and having no job that tomorrow I’ve got, erm, nothing on at all.” She smiled. “What time?”
“Ten?” He took out his phone. “Number?”
Molly reeled off her number and Dev imputed it. “I’ll text you so you’ve got mine.” He looked at her. She seemed distracted, like she was listening to another conversation somewhere.
“See you tomorrow then?”
Molly nodded. “Yup, see you then.” She smiled. “Great,” she said.
“Great,” Dev echoed. They looked at each other.
“Well, I should go.”
“Yup, me too.”
The remained where they were, still smiling at each other.
“Bye,” Dev said. He turned to go, but he didn’t want to. There was something intriguing about Molly.
“See ya,” Molly called.
He looked over his shoulder at her. “Yes, see you tomorrow…-“ He walked straight into a lamp post and hit his head.
“Ouch!” Rubbing his forehead with his hand, he could hear Molly laughing as he quickly strode away.
Jenny Thompson stood in her kitchen and pounded the slab of beef with her mallet, allowing the misery to course through her. The rhythmic thumping filled her ears as she forced herself to keep thumping, keep kneading, keep living.
She stopped. Her daughter Sophie sat at the table in the kitchen staring at her mother. “Mummy what are you doing?”
“Oh, erm…” Jenny turned and looked at her daughter. “I was tenderising the meat sweetheart. It’s a bit tough and I wanted to pan fry it…” Her voice trailed off. To be honest she wasn’t really sure what she was doing.
Sophie nodded. “When will dinner be ready?”
“In about, erm… ten minutes.” Jenny forced herself back to reality. She had lost track of time again – gone off into her private grief. She left the meat and took a frying pan out of the cupboard then she glanced in the oven; the potatoes were nearly done. “Yes, only ten minutes now sweetheart.”
Jenny looked at the steak, the salad in its bowl ready to take to the table and realised that she had again cooked too much. Once the meal would have served four, but now only two would appreciate it. The accident had torn the family apart.
She felt herself slip again. She remembered the last time they were all together, before her husband had gone, before Chris had died. She heard laughing inside her head. They were all laughing, but she couldn’t remember what it was about.
Jenny turned, ready to snap. Why did Sophie keep on?
“Mummy, what’s that light?”
She stopped and followed her daughter’s gaze. Behind her, in the garden there was a momentary bright flash of light. She blinked.
“I don’t know, I…”
Jenny went to the window and stared out. The light had vanished as quickly as it appeared. She looked at the lawn and suddenly she spun round.
“Sophie! Sophie what do you think you’re doing? You know those things belonged to Chris…” Jenny’s voice rose until she was shouting. “You are not to play with his things! I’ve told you that! I’ve told you a hundred times…”
Jenny opened the back door and marched out into the garden. She snatched up the cricket stumps that stood in the middle of the garden, and the bat and the ball. She turned and Sophie stood at the door watching her.
“I didn’t do anything Mummy,” Sophie said. Her face had crumpled and she had started to cry. “I haven’t touched Chris’s things, he told me not to, he said…”
Jenny was at the door and grasping Sophie’s hand before her daughter could finish her sentence.
“What are you doing?” She cried, “You are eight years old, you are old enough to know how much this hurts me! Stop it Sophie! STOP IT!”
Sophie began to sob. Jenny caught her breath and released her daughter’s arm. She turned away and put her hands over her face. She too began to cry.
“He said he wants you to know how much he loved playing in the garden…” Sophie whispered. Jenny dropped her hands down and knelt to be level with Sophie.
“Chris is dead,” she said, her voice thick with tears, “He died in an accident four months ago. You know that don’t you Sophie?”
“Then you must help Mummy get over it, you can’t talk about Chris like this or get his things out; it’s not fair…” Jenny pulled Sophie in to her and hugged her tightly. “You have to help me Sophie, “she said gently into Sophie’s soft blond hair, “You have to help me accept it…”
Sophie held onto her mummy. “That’s what we’re trying to do…”